BOATER ALERT: Early spring cold waters mean hypothermia risk

While this weekend’s forecast calls for sun and air temperatures in the upper 50s, state waters are still in the 40s meaning that immersion into the water can cause serious injury or death due to hypothermia.

“Fisherman and boaters are reminded to dress for the water temperature, not air temperature,” said Eleanor Mariani, boating division director for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), noting that the trout fishing season opens April 11 in Connecticut.

“At this time of year, it is more important than ever to take proper safety precautions to minimize the chances of going into the water and to be prepared if you do,” Mariani said.

Real hypothermia cases

Between 2004 and 2014 in Connecticut, 68 people were treated for hypothermia as a result of boating accidents. Of these cases, 52 injuries occurred during Connecticut’s cold water months, October through May.

“Boaters are reminded that they are legally required to wear a life jacket while in a manually propelled vessel from Oct. 1 through May 31,” said Capt. Ryan Healy of DEEP’s Environmental Conservation Police. “Don’t let a fun day of outdoor recreating become a fatal boating statistic — please wear a life jacket.”

In 2014 several incidents demonstrated the dangers posed by cold waters and hypothermia:

— A person was pulled from the water unresponsive in April after his vessel capsized at the mouth of Southport Harbor in Fairfield.

— Connecticut had two boating fatalities early in the season. In March a canoe capsized in Long Island Sound, off Milford. In May another canoe capsized in Long Island Sound, off Norwalk, with four males on board; one male drowned.

In both these fatalities (Southport and Norwalk), life jackets were not worn.

What are the water temperatures?

Temperatures in Long Island Sound are still in the upper 30s; and on lakes and ponds they are in the mid-40s.

Ending up in the water when someone’s body temperature is 98.6 degrees can be a huge shock. Someone that falls in the water, quickly loses the ability to function. Cold waters also invoke an involuntary gasp reflex — a number one cause of drowning.

Life jacket rules

A person immersed in cold water has a much better chance of survival if they are wearing a life jacket.

The DEEP reminds all boaters that every vessel must have a proper fitting life jacket for every person aboard, and that children under 13 must be wearing a life jacket at all times while underway, unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin.

To see the effects of cold water immersion and the benefits of wearing a life jacket, access the Cold Water Boot Camp video at: